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Students offer on-line expertise to China schools

MIT undergraduates Mandy Mobley, Roger Hu and James Montgomery will travel overseas for the first time in their lives this summer, introducing Chinese high school students to the wonders of Internet technology and getting a taste of Chinese language and culture.

The three will join 10 other undergraduates who will work in teams at five high schools in the People's Republic as part of the MIT-China Educational Technology Initiative (MIT-CETI) program.

The program was established by the MIT International Science and Technology Initiative (MISTI) as an outgrowth of the Computer Educational Development Initiative, created by graduate students Ronald Cao and Jacob Seid in 1995. Mr. Cao and Mr. Seid spent six weeks at the No. 2 Secondary School attached to East China Normal University in Shanghai last summer, showing students how to set up a Web server, create home pages and use the Internet.

"It was a great opportunity to see how the people live in China," said Mr. Cao, who will return for a short time this summer before joining his family in Hong Kong. "It's not the way we think. People really are on top of world events. They might not speak in public, but they do speak their minds." He will receive the SM in electrical engineering next month.

Unlike Mr. Cao, Mr. Seid spoke no Chinese before the trip. By the time he returned, he knew key phrases and could communicate with his new Chinese friends. "My parents were really worried," said Mr. Seid, a graduate student in electrical engineering, who will also return this summer for a short time before heading to Japan. "But once we got there, the people were warm, friendly and open. It was terrific."

Students who do not speak Chinese are teamed with ones who do, reducing the communications gap. Most of the Chinese students speak and read English.

Ms. Mobley and Mr. Hu will join freshman Ting Luo, a graduate of the No. 2 Secondary School in Shanghai, at that school. The MIT students plan to help the students set up a local-area network and connect it to the Internet, as well as train students to design Web pages.

"It's a great school," said Media Laboratory postdoctoral associate Hong Tan, also a graduate of No. 2 Secondary School. "The students are really brilliant. They'll learn a lot from the MIT students, but the MIT students can also learn a lot from them." Ms. Tan received the PhD in electrical engineering from MIT last year.

Ms. Mobley, a sophomore in electrical engineering and computer science, has been studying Chinese and anticipates an excellent adventure. "I like working with kids," she said, "and I like teaching."

Mr. Hu, a freshman, has heard stories about China from his father, who was born in Shanghai and emigrated to the United States to attend graduate school at MIT before settling in California. "He's excited for me," said Mr. Hu. "But he's warned me that the quality of life is different. People don't have a lot of the things we take for granted in the US. They say you should avoid the water."

Mr. Montgomery, a junior in EECS, will team up with freshmen Richard Li and Xiaomin Mou at the high school attached to Xian Jiaotong University in the Shaanxi province.

"I want to see as much of the world as I can," said Mr. Montgomery, who'd never been outside California before coming to MIT. "It should be real cool."

Other students in the program are freshmen Dan Dwyer and Dan Hu, who will be at the No. 4 School in Beijing; freshmen Sabrina Dong, Alice Yang (a native of Shanghai) and Lei Wang, who will be at the high school connected to Fudan University; freshman Sally Yu and senior Shamsul Sopiee, an EECS major, who are assigned to the high school attached to Tsinghua University.

MISTI is paying air fare, room, board and a stipend to each student during the six-week internship that starts in mid-June. "The MIT-CETI program serves as a bridge to link Chinese and American students," said Deborah Ullrich, administrative director of MISTI, who lived in China for three years. "The friendships they form will help foster greater understanding between the Chinese and American people."

In addition to the MISTI funding, Mr. Cao and Mr. Seid have formed MIT-CETI Partners in Education to enlist the sponsorship of US technology companies, among them Northern Telecom, Accton Technology, Addtron Technology Co., Proxim and Z Corp. Several firms have already contributed equipment to the program.

"With further support from MISTI and corporate sponsors, our goal will be to greatly expand the number of MIT student interns and Chinese high schools involved in the upcoming years," said Mr. Seid. "We are also very interested in forming partnerships with other existing educational initiatives that involve the US and China in order to exploit potential synergy that would deepen the educational value of all programs involved."

"The real purpose of MIT-CETI is to build a community of people around the world who are sincerely interested in understanding each other's culture and are motivated to facilitate intercultural communication through the use of technology," said Mr. Cao.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on May 14, 1997.

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